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Street scene in Shanghai

Object | Accession Number: 2005.229.3

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    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Drawing by 18 year old Ilie Wacs of the Shanghai street scene viewed from the window of his family’s apartment. Ilie’s family left Vienna for Shanghai soon after Kristallnacht in November, 1938. Nazi Germany had annexed Austria in March 1938 and the persecution of Jews was increasingly violent. In 1943, the Japanese, who controlled Shanghai, forced most Jewish refugees into ghettos. Conditions were very harsh, but Ilie’s family survived the war. With the assistance of the American Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish aid organization, Ilie received a scholarship to study art in Paris.
    Artwork Title
    View From My Window
    Date
    creation:  1945
    Geography
    creation: Shanghai (China)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ilie Wacs
    Signature
    front, bottom right : WACS / 45
    Contributor
    Subject: Ilie Wacs
    Artist: Ilie Wacs
    Biography
    Ilie Wacs was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 11, 1927, to Moritz and Henia Fach. Moritz was originally from Romania and had been a prisoner of war in World War I who stayed in Austria when the war ended. However, he was not an Austrian citizen. He and Henia were married by a rabbi, but the marriage was not recognized by the Austrian government, and Ilie's birth name was officially Ilie Fach. His mother was from an orthodox Jewish family from Poland, and though his family was not especially religious, she kept a kosher home. A sister, Deborah, was born in 1935. Moritz was a men’s custom tailor with a very successful business. The Austrian population was primarily Catholic and anti-Semitism was common. Ilie was one of only 5 Jewish boys in his class at the public school he attended. During morning prayers, they had to wait outside the classroom and on the way home from school, Ilie and the other Jewish boys were often attacked. Ilie recalls often feeling like an outsider and asking his family why they couldn’t leave Austria. During the Anschluss (Annexation) of Austria by Nazi Germany on March 12-13 1938, Ilie remembers hearing the marching of hobnailed boots on cobblestone streets for hours. When school reopened, the teachers wore swastika armbands, and told the students that they must now behave as if they were guests in Austria. Ilie’s parents warned him to keep quiet at school, as he could get them all trouble. Moritz's business was aryanized and turned over to his Christian head tailor, Alois, a member of the Nazi party. Alois had prior knowledge of Kristallnacht that November and was able to warn the Wacs to leave their apartment that night. Kristallnacht was especially brutal in Austria: all the synagogues in Vienna were destroyed, Jewish homes and businesses were vandalized, and 1000s of Jews were deported to Dachau and Buchenwald. Soon after this, the family decided to emigrate. They wanted to come to the United States, but since Ilie was a Romanian citizen, it was not possible to get visas. They decided to go to Shanghai, since it was an open city and required no papers. Moritz’s brother in Romania paid for their passage, since only US dollars were accepted and Moritz could not get these in Austria. They sailed from Genoa, Italy, on the Conte Bianca Mano, August 20, 1939, less than two weeks before the outbreak of World War II. After they arrived in Shanghai, the local Jewish community found them an apartment in Heime Hongkew and Moritz found work as a custom tailor. They had only the four suitcases they had taken in the ship; the furniture and goods they had arranged to have shipped never arrived. Ilie attended a school where he was taught English; he became more religious, studied Hebrew and was Bar Mitzvahed. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, food became extremely scarce and they pawned Henia’s jewelry for food. Ilie remembers being hungry all the time for 4 years. In 1943, the Japanese, who had occupied Shanghai since 1937 and were allied with the Germans, forced Jewish refugees into ghettos. Shanghai was heavily bombed by US forces in July 1945, and hundreds of people died in the Wacs’ neighborhood market. That August, Japan conceded defeat, although the ghetto was not officially liberated until September 2, 1945, when Chiang Kai-Shek arrived. . But before that occurred, according to Ilie “An amazing thing happened. For three or four days there was not any authority. The Japanese withdrew and nothing happened, no control.” The American Joint Distribution Committee arrived to assist Jewish refugees with relocation. As stateless refugees, the Wacs family had nowhere to go. They learned that all their family members who had remained in Europe, except for two cousins, had perished in the Holocaust; Henia’s sister in Dachau concentration camp. In 1949, Charles H. Jordan of the AJDC, offered Ilie a scholarship to attend the École des Beaux-Art in Paris for a year. With the enactment of the Displaced Persons Act in the US, Moritz, Henia, and Debra were able to emigrate to the US in 1950, where Ilie joined them. They settled in New York City. Ilie got a job as an assistant art director and eventually ran his own design firm. He married Sylvia Silverstein in 1956 and they had two daughters. Moritz passed away in 1957; Henia in 1972. In 2011, he published a memoir with his sister, Debra Strobin: An uncommon journey: from Vienna to Shanghai to America: a brother and sister escape to freedom during World War II.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Art
    Category
    Drawings
    Object Type
    Pencil drawing (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Pencil drawing on thick, yellowed paper depicting a detailed view of a cobblestone street with row houses on the left and 2 detached houses on the right. The house in the right foreground is 3 stories, with 3 large, distinctive windows and a walled garden with a tree. The street dead-ends into a square, 4-story apartment building. On the back is a quick, unfinished sketch outlining the right profile of a man. Artist’s signature is on the bottom right.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 10.880 inches (27.635 cm) | Width: 8.250 inches (20.955 cm)
    Materials
    overall : paper, graphite

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    Restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The drawing was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005 by Ilie Wacs.
    Record last modified:
    2023-06-21 11:34:31
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn517214

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